24th Aug // 2015
The recent news coming out of Twitter's San Francisco head office hasn't made pretty reading of late. User growth has stagnated, they're struggling to find a new CEO and share prices in the company are falling.
Once revered as the network to take on Facebook, and even referenced as an integral tool to the growth of free speech within dictatorship ruled states, Twitter seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Facebook, it's primary competitor, has over the same period grown and become increasingly important in our daily lives, thanks in quite a big way to the growing use of smartphones and our tendencies to skim through our Facebook apps whenever we're bored/ about to fall asleep/ stuck in the lift with someone we don't want to talk to.
Investors are concerned. Popular users have become disillusioned. The regular user is turning to alternatives, such as the arch nemesis Facebook and Instagram (which unfortunately for Twitter is also Facebook owned). Perhaps then it is the micro-blogging networks' inability to buy into other growing network trends that has left it in relative turmoil.
The true figures are actually quite alarming. In 2013 one share of Twitter would cost $69. Today you can nearly buy three shares for the same price.
It is somewhat surprising that Twitter has struggled to grow whilst Facebook has surged on. Why? Facebook already has over one billion users, so entering new markets and attracting users should have been a lot more difficult than Twitter growing its comparatively modest 304 million active users. In fact, last month saw the slowest user growth since it went public.
Co-founder Jack Dorsey even came out and told investors that the current growth was unacceptable and the company aren't happy with current progress.
So, what is wrong with Twitter? All their problems are derived from one sobering fact – new users just aren't signing up as quickly as the company needs them too. So what's putting them off?
First thing to note is that Twitter is a conversation tool, a method by which one person can read and reply to any post written by anyone from anywhere in the world.
That in itself is a pretty powerful USP. Facebook, for example, is all about conversing with current friends, and not really about interacting with popular trends.
Another issue for new users and why newbies aren't potentially converting to regular active users is lack of interaction. For example, a few friends on Facebook or Instagram and your posts will get some likes and comments. But if you're a relative nobody on Twitter, it's unlikely you'll get any response. New users can often think 'why bother spending time on Twitter when no one reads what I tweet?'
Twitter is the home for celebrities and influencers, the Katy Perry's and Stephen Fry's of this world, where every tweet is scrutinised and favourited and even makes tabloid headlines. It's a place to follow rather than be followed.
But Twitter is getting some things right.
It is a great tool to share content to a mass market without having to pay for it to be seen, unlike with Facebook where to get mass coverage you really need to promote your brand posts. Almost all of the analytics accounts I have access to cite Twitter as the number one social traffic referrer, and that's down to users interacting with content.
Twitter is also a highly interactive medium. How many adverts do you see emblazoned with hashtags? When was the last time you even saw an integrated marketing campaign without a related hashtag? How many TV shows do you watch where they ask you to take part in polls by tweeting one hashtag or another (The Last Leg being a great example).
Twitter is also home to breaking news, gossip, intrigue and a smattering of entertaining celebrity verbal brawls, which are all things it does better than Facebook and other networks.
So if it is so good at so many things, why is Twitter still showing stagnant user growth?
My main issue is that it's cluttered. On Facebook you can see content from people that actually interest you. On Twitter, especially if you've gone down the very popular route of following lots of people to get lots of people to follow you back, you end up seeing very little content of interest on your home stream.
Any maybe the micro-network has shot itself in the foot slightly by updating the look and feel of itself to look something similar to Facebook. Twitter's number one USP was that it was completely different to Facebook, and back in those days, it was winning public opinion. How many articles for example did you read only 12 months ago saying Facebook was dead? I confess I wrote at least half a dozen of them myself.
Twitter has made moves to improve its dwindling company value though. A new deal struck with Google means that Tweets will now appear in search results, boosting traffic and engagement. Revenue from ads has also rapidly increased, meaning that Twitter's annual turnover is expected to grow massively this year.
So it's not all doom and gloom. With a new CEO and a return to focusing on what once made Twitter great and the social network can once again thrive.